Steve Hackett
To Watch The Storms European Tour

September 17th, 013, Tilburg, The Netherlands
October 15th, Whelans, Dublin, Ireland
October 18th 2003 Opera House, Newcastle, UK

By Derk van Mourik, Kevin Murphy and Bob Mulvey


Please Don't Stop!
By Derk van Mourik

Steve Hackett is considered one of the most influential guitar players in the history of Progressive Rock, and while he is most famous for his stint with Genesis from 1971 until 1977 (indeed, he has once been heard to say that leaving Genesis was the most famous thing he ever did), his solo career is as consistent in its high quality as Genesis was during those halcyon days. Tonight Hackett appeared at a decently filled 013 in support of his latest solo effort To Watch The Storms. On stage with him were Roger King on keyboards, Gary O'Toole on drums, Terry Gregory on bass guitar, and Rob Towsend on sax & flute.

These five gentlemen breezed though a set spanning the entirety of Hackett's career. Classic Genesis was represented by a set of four instrumentals and instrumental passages of two further songs, which were performed in a more jazzy way than the original recordings. Of course the classic guitar solo in Firth of Fifth was not omitted, while the lovely Hairless Heart proved to be one of the highlights of the night. At the other end of the (chronological) spectrum, the new album was represented with a quartet of songs, among which the strong openers Mechanical Bride and Serpentine Song. Listening to the Genesis material and the new material together makes you realize that of all the musicians in Genesis, Hackett has stayed most true to the spirit, the adventurousness and to a lesser extent the style of those elder days, and that without becoming derivative of himself.

The rest of the setlist was padded out with stage favourites like Vampyre with a Healthy Appetite (featuring the typical Hackett way of declaiming the lyrics instead of singing them) and Camino Royale. Hackett introduced Spectral Mornings by remembering the very happy time he had recording this album here in The Netherlands over twenty years ago.

On stage, Hackett is a sight to behold. With his black outfit, his sunglasses and his self-assured stance, the man positively exudes cool. Without apparent effort he coaxes a multitude of sounds and melodies from his single guitar (which he only ever changed for an acoustic guitar a few times). In between songs there's time for interaction with the audience, telling stories and making jokes. But when he plays, he is utterly concentrated on the performance, his body still except for the hands and the fingers which manipulate the strings of his guitar with speed and finesse.

As usual, the sound in 013 was very good, and perfectly complemented the performance, which was excellent. The band as a whole made a very solid impression. These are all experienced musicians, and it shows. Roger King and Terry Gregory in particular were on great form. And Steve Hackett, well, suffice to say that I was more than a little bit awed! The God of the Guitar indeed.



A Triumphant Return
By Kevin Murphy

The queue outside Whelan's rippled with excited chatter, snippets of the soundcheck seeping through the venue's locked doors, adding to the excitement. Doors open, a quick dash upstairs to grab a seat at the front of the balcony, for the best view in the house. Sorted! Nine o'clock arrives. Lights dim and, bang! Steve and band (same line-up as Somewhere in South America) launch into the ...Schizoid Man-like Mechanical Bride.
Hackett remains, for me, the most interesting ex-member of Genesis. While ostensibly remaining faithful to his prog roots, he has never shied away from incorporating numerous styles, from jazz to folk, through classical, world, blues, and even an element of pop, creating a fascinating and eclectic catalogue of music. Indeed, his latest studio release To Watch the Storms includes all these styles and more, resulting in what is arguably his best album for many years. A truly progressive (in every sense of the word) work!
Hackett's last Irish appearance was in 1972 during Genesis' Foxtrot tour. Incidentally, fact fans, this historic show in Dublin's National Stadium marked Gabriel's first ever use of the fox head and red dress costume. I however, was still in short trousers and probably still listening to my Pinky & Perky LPs, my prog introduction and ensuing (and ongoing) obsession, still several years into the future.
Thirty-one years later, and a couple of miles down the road, Steve Hackett played his debut solo Irish gig, and boy was it worth the wait. Mechanical Bride is a great opener. Not for the faint-hearted, this is a dark and intense behemoth of a song. There has always been an element of darkness in Hackett's music, but never so broodingly obvious as this. Soft and tranquil, second number Serpentine Song is the complete antithesis to Mechanical Bride. A beautiful melody and brilliant lyrics paint vivid pictures of a visit to London's Hyde Park. One of the evening's many highlights, this is arguably one of Hackett's best ever songs.
After a quick hello, Steve spoke about the aforementioned 1972 Genesis gig, and promised us that we would be treated to some classics from that era. Indeed, no sooner said than done and Watcher of the Skies spine-tingling intro was received with much joy from the crowd. It's pleasing that Steve Hackett acknowledges and, indeed, seems proud of his Genesis legacy (unlike some others I could mention).
Hairless Heart followed, the original lead melody now played on alto sax, giving the tune an even more melancholic feel.
Darktown and Vampyre with a Healthy Appetite also represent the aforementioned darker side of Hackett's music, and must surely have come as a shock to those people in the audience (and there were quite a few, unfortunately) who were there only to hear the old stuff and who havenít kept up with his recent output.

Featuring snippets of Classical Gas & Wind, Sand & Stars (I think), the acoustic set never seemed to lift off. It just seemed a bit twiddly. Even the ever-present Horizons seemed somewhat lacklustre, and I couldn't help feeling that Steve was slightly bored playing it. Maybe it's time to finally retire that piece.
Keyboard player Roger King and sax/flute man Rob Townsend returned for Walking Away from Rainbows, before the full band reconvened for a set finale as fab as you could ever wish for. The Steppes (intense, magical), Please Don't Touch/Voice of NECAM (fast & furious/weird & wonderful), Every Day (great four-part harmonies), Spectral Mornings (truly mesmerising) and Firth of Fifth (nice to hear that solo played as it should be - sorry Mr. Steurmer) all followed.
One more To Watch The Storms track, the single Brand New and we were into the Los Endos medley. A Trick of the Tail was my first Genesis album and indeed my first prog album and Los Endos was the track that clinched the deal. Twenty-six years on from first hearing that track, it remains a classic. Hackett has crafted on bits and pieces from every era (including the much maligned GTR) to create what is in essence an entire career overview in ten action-packed minutes.

A quick breather and the band were back for the encores. Clocks - The Angel of Mons, complete with 'herd of stampeding elephants' drum solo, was up first. Hackett attacked his guitar strings with any number of weird e-bow type devices to great effect. ...In That Quiet Earth followed. This track, along with its companion piece Unquiet Slumbers for Sleepers... is for me the last recorded classic in the Genesis catalogue and proved an apt way to end a set that in every way lived up to expectations, containing just the right balance of old, new, and in-between. Steve Hackett remains one of the true greats of progressive rock. One of the true greats of music, period!!

A few afterthoughts: Nice to see Steve signing album sleeves and shaking the many hands thrust in his direction before leaving the stage. A true gentleman it would seem. Also, mention must be made of the very reasonably priced merchandise - t-shirts, programs, CDs and DVDs. Too many acts these days seem only too willing to over-charge their fans for what quite often is shoddy goods. Tonight, everything was affordable and of a high quality, my only complaint being that they had run out of copies of the Nearfest archive CD. Finally, at Ä25 for two hours and ten minutes of classic progressive genius, this represents the best value for money show I have attended in many a year. Let's hope it doesn't take another thirty-one years for the next one.


Another Night At The Opera
By Bob Mulvey

The second time in the same week and I am once more travelling to my old stomping ground of Newcastle Upon Tyne for yet another concert at the marvellous Opera House. A grandiose and elegant building set in the heart of the City, and a great venue that is both warm and friendly, and one that captures all of the atmosphere surrounding classic live music. I felt that the Opera House deserved a special mention here, as they seem to have taken on the mantle of providing an excellent venue for live music within the North East of England - believe me we need one. Seated only a few places away from earlier in the week, so I was guaranteed a great view.

A quick glance at the European Tour 2003 Official Programme confirms that the line-up for tonight's concert is the same as appeared on the excellent To Watch The Storms album. Accompanying Steve Hackett therefore would be Roger King (Keyboards), Gary O'Toole (Drums and Vocals), Rob Townsend (Sax, Flute and Vocals) and Terry Gregory (Bass and Vocals). Going on the standard of musicianship on the album, this was going to be a great gig - and it was! The evening opened with Mechanical Bride and as my friend remarked Steve had in fact lived up to one of his early comments in which he had expressed the wish to play "musical karate". The use of strobes and strong lighting well complimenting the frantic nature of the music. Steve Hackett promised an evening of contrasts as we moved into the less frenetic Serpentine Song.

True to his word the third track from the evening offered another contrasting moment as we delved into the earliest days of Genesis and as those distinctive opening "mellotron" chords from Watcher of the Skies filled the room. I couldn't help thinking how close to the original (probably better) sound the keyboards produced. A wonderful moment as we revelled in the pure nostalgia of this track. The concert, for me, just went from strength to strength from here as the evening unfolded with a wonderful insight into the career of one of prog's most endearing exponents. What also was refreshing was that the music was not just about Steve Hackett, but encompassed the talents and influences of the other musicians.

All five musicians played brilliantly and with such cohesion, that I became truly engrossed (no scribbled notes again) in the performance. The music was impeccably played, but not to the detriment of the stage performance, as the camaraderie and the sense of enjoyment from the band exuded from the stage and mesmerised the audience. I could extol the virtues of the entire band further, but I fear there is not enough space to do so and my words would most probably fall short anyway. So perhaps a little mention of some of the gems from the evening.

Well other than all of it of course - the aforementioned Watcher of the Skies. The acoustic section (and if memory serves me correctly) opening with the arpeggios from Black Light and featuring Horizons, the Skye Boat Song and Classical Gas. At the end of this brief interlude Rob Townsend and Roger King appeared from the wings and continuing this gentler atmosphere played Walking Away from Rainbows. A little mention here that the saxophone is not one of my favourite instruments and given Rob's jazzy background, I was a little apprehensive. If I had had any doubts prior to this track, they were immediately dispelled and Rob's playing throughout the evening was both complimentary and delightful. Sorry did I mention that all the musicians were wonderful? Well they were.

Actually, the more I try to re-live the evening the more highlights come flooding back. Please Don't Touch segue Firth of Fifth solo was magical. The newer material and notably Brand New, with its splendid harmony vocals! A great version of Los Endos to finish the evening and such a delight to feel the bass pedals rumbling through the floor. Clocks and In That Quiet Earth supplying an apt conclusion to the evening. Although myself and I assume the audience could have quite gladly gone on for a few more hours.

I have included a setlist but as I was unfamiliar with some of the music that was played on the evening I apologise in advance for any inaccuracies in this customary inventory. Please add to this, that the setlist was compiled some days later and the running order (and some of the tracks) may also suffer from being misplaced. Suffice to say that we were treated to one of the most varied and memorable concerts I have witnessed in many a year, with the material spanning 31 years of Steve Hackett's career and played in a refreshing and absorbing fashion. Quite some time has elapsed since I last saw Steve Hackett (and band) playing - let's hope it will not be too long till the next!

Setlists:

Tilburg:

Mechanical Bride
Serpentine Song
Watcher of the Skies
Hairless Heart
Darktown
Camino Royale
Pollution
Steppes
Acoustic Set
Walking Away From Rainbows
Slogans
Everyday
Please Don't Touch
Firth of Fifth
Wall of Knives
Vampyre with a Healthy Appetite
Clocks
Spectral Mornings
Brand New
Myopea
Los Endos

...In That Quiet Earth

Dublin:

Mechanical Bride
Serpentine Song
Watcher of the Skies
Hairless Heart
Darktown
Camino Royale
Pollution
Steppes
Acoustic Set
Walking Away from Rainbows
Slogans
Everyday
Please Don't Touch
Firth of Fifth
Vampyre with a Healthy Appetite
Spectral Mornings
Brand New
Myopea
Los Endos

Clocks
...In that Quiet Earth

Newcastle:

Mechanical Bride
Serpentine Song
Watcher of the Skies
Hairless Heart
Darktown
Camino Royale
Steppes
Acoustic Set
Walking Away from Rainbows
Slogans
Everyday
Please Don't Touch
Firth of Fifth
Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite
Spectral Mornings
Brand New
Myopea
Los Endos

Clocks
...In That Quiet Earth

Photos by Bart Jan van der Vorst for DPRP © 2003

 

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